Monday, August 27, 2012

The Perennial Tradition

John W. Carlson, Understanding our Being: Introduction to Speculative Philosophy in the Perennial Tradition. Washington, D. C. : Catholic University of America Press, 2008. 319 pages. ISBN: 9780813215181.

What is the perennial tradition? It is often referred to as the Great Tradition. It is the school of philosophy that follows the follow of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. In Understanding our Being: Introduction to Speculative Philosophy in the Speculative Philosophy in the Perennial Tradition, John W. Carlson describes and updates this tradition for 21st century students. Carlson has written a book that introduces us to this philosophical tradition in a way that is pedagogical sound. This book is intended primarily for use in college and university courses.

John W. Carlson is professor and chair of the department and chair of the department of philosophy at Creighton University. Carlson writes that this is a book of "speculative philosophy." He describes philosophy as a love of wisdom. The author note that wisdom "suggests an understanding of ultimate matters," particularly "the nature of our being, as well as concerning the choices proper for us, as individuals and as communities. Carlson notes that his focus will "be the school represented by the school of St. Thomas."

There are many strengths to this book. It takes the thinking of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and followers of their thought and makes it applicable to modern readers. It shows what is still applicable and what is not. Carlson is reader-friendly for people new to the tradition. This is a good book for beginners and it will be helpful to those already familiar with this tradition.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part discusses being. The author defines being in the glossary as: "that which is-- the natural world, substances with their features and accidents." The author has a helpful glossary that defines key terms in the book. I do think the first part of the book is the hardest part of the book to understand, but it lays the foundation for what follows. The second part discusses the human person, and particularly their intellect and will. He also describes the soul and places himself within the position of a modified dualism. This book's comes also from a critical realist position. The third part discusses what we can know of God philosophically. Carlson discusses Thomas Aquinas five ways or proofs of the existence of God which in some sense is one argument. People are contingent whose existence requires a necessary being. In the last part, he discusses the problem of evil. The author notes in this section that a full defense of the perennial tradition's defense of God in regards to evil "may require the resources of religious faith."

The last part of the book covers religious faith. In some sense, this was my favorite part of the book. One of the question he asks in this section, Is it reasonable to accept revelation? The author shows how it is reasonable to accept revelation. I like how he describes faith as a commitment of the whole person. It requires both the will and the intellect.  Carlson notes how "Aquinas pointed out long ago," 'faith is compatible with some degree of contrary spiritual motions, questioning, doubt, and interior struggle.'

This book is recommended for those who are interested in learning about the perennial tradition, the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas. This tradition has been enriched by many Christian thinkers. Even Protestants can learn alot from this tradition.

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